Friday, August 09, 2002

Hardcourt's best players ready for faceoff

Top remaining seeds clash in quarterfinal

By Michael Perry,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MASON — Lleyton Hewitt was 16 years old the first time he faced Andre Agassi. They were playing in Adelaide, Australia, Hewitt's hometown.

        It was 1998. Agassi was ranked No.110 in the world and near the beginning of his remarkable comeback.

Andre Agassi returns the ball in his 6-4, 7-5 win over Thomas Enqvist.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
| ZOOM |
        “It was obviously pretty nerve-racking,” Hewitt said. “I was really going out there just hoping to get games. I hadn't even played in a professional tournament.”

        Hewitt beat Agassi in the semifinals and went on to win the event. He was the youngest winner on the ATP Tour in 10 years and the lowest-ranked (No. 550) winner in the tour's history.

        A quarterfinal tonight in the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters will be their sixth meeting. Hewitt leads the series 3-2.

        This is the marquee matchup of the week. No.1 seed Hewitt and No.6 seed Agassi are the top-ranked players remaining in the field.

        They are the best hardcourt players in the world right now; Agassi is 23-2 on the surface this year and Hewitt is 18-3. Agassi has won two Tennis Masters events this year. Hewitt is the defending U.S. Open and Wimbledon champion and won one TMS event this year.

        Oh, and Hewitt's former coach, Darren Cahill, now coaches Agassi.

        “I'm going to have to play a lot better than I have so far this tournament,” Hewitt said.

        “I just go out there with the knowledge that I'm going to have to bring my best stuff,” Agassi said.

        The two most recently met in a final at San Jose, Calif., the first weekend in March.

        Hewitt was playing his second match after a six-week layoff caused by chicken pox. Agassi was playing his first tournament of the year, returning from six weeks off because of a wrist injury.

        Hewitt won 4-6, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (4) in what some refer to as the best match of the year on the ATP Tour. Hewitt also beat Agassi in round-robin play of the Tennis Masters Cup in November in Sydney on the way to earning his year-end No.1 ranking.

        “I've played well in the past against Andre,” Hewitt said. “It's always been great matches. So, if we play another match like (San Jose's), then it should at least get the crowd excited.”

        Agassi advanced Thursday with a 6-4, 7-5 victory over Thomas Enqvist, who won the tournament here in 2000.

        “I felt pretty good,” Agassi said. “I thought it was a high-standard match, and I felt like I was getting a better feel for things as it went on. So those are good signs.

        “I'm really looking forward to (tonight's match). I think anybody that plays Lleyton realizes that you have to go out there and get it done start to finish. He's a phenomenal player and a great competitor.”

        Hewitt, who won his first 17 games this week, regrouped after his first set and defeated Jarkko Nieminen of Finland 2-6, 6-2, 6-3 Thursday. He beat his first opponent, Robby Ginepri, 6-0, 6-0, then was ahead 5-0 on Wednesday against Davide Sanguinetti, who retired because of a foot injury.

        “I'm glad I had a good workout today,” Hewitt said. “That's what you want in these tournaments going into the Grand Slams... Last week I felt like I didn't prepare as well as I probably could have. It's nice to get a few tough matches under my belt here and to get through to another quarter.”

   ATP Masters Results & Schedule


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